Inslee rejects recommendation to cut WA wind farm proposal

Gov. Jay Inslee breathed new life into a proposal for what could be Washington’s largest wind farm, rejecting a recommendation from a state permitting board that sought to cut the project in half because of concerns about a peregrine falcon. endangered.

Plans for the $1.7 billion Horse Heaven Hills Wind Farm originally included up to 222 wind turbines on 24 miles of hills in the Tri-Cities area, plus three solar arrays covering up to 5,447 acres.

Since the project was proposed in 2021, it has pitted local opponents against the states’ ever-growing need for renewable energy and illustrates the difficult trade-offs required to wean the grid off fossil fuels.

Last month, Washington’s seven-person Energy Sites Assessment Council, a clearinghouse for permits required by major projects, recommended cutting the proposal because of nests found in the area belonging to the endangered peregrine falcon. While wind farm opponents celebrated, its developer, Colorado-based Scout Clean Energies, immediately backtracked and said the recommendation would set a difficult precedent for similar renewable projects in the future.

On Thursday, Inslee, who has the final say on the matter, rejected the council’s recommendation and asked the group to take another look, hoping to expand it closer to its full potential.

The council’s recommendation to halve the project took a very broad approach in trying to solve some of the problems at hand, Inslee wrote in a seven-page letter to the group. Going back and narrowing the approach would allow the site to reach its maximum generating capacity, much closer to the original proposal, he said.

Washington needs more energy, Inslee wrote. States’ energy demands could increase by a fifth by 2030 and nearly double by 2050.

As originally proposed, the Horse Heaven Hills project would provide about 5% of the new electricity needed in the next decade, Inslee wrote.

For context, the region would need to build roughly 20 additional clean energy projects of this scale to meet Washington’s projected increase in electricity load by 2035, the governor wrote.

So the council must better balance the needs of states with the risks of this particular project, he wrote.

That means drawing lines tighter around proposed wind turbines and solar arrays to protect wildlife, Inslee said. The council’s recommendation last month included a 2-mile buffer around the falcon nests, which have been empty for years.

Inslee urged the council to try and provide the Yakama Nation with better access to culturally and historically significant lands, but still restore much of the planned wind farm.

As for those in the area who don’t want to look at the turbines, that’s not reason enough to reject the project outright, Inslee wrote.

Obviously, the turbines will only be visible from a distance, and none of the turbines will look over anyone’s house, he wrote.

The council has been discussing the Horse Heaven Hills wind farm for more than three years, Inslee added. It now has just three months to review the governors’ notes and revise its original recommendation.

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